Towards Understanding the Qur’an
(English Translation of "Tafhimu’l-Qur’an")
 Shehzad Saleem

    Book:          Towards Understanding the Qur’an (English Version of Tafhumu’l-Qur’an)  

        Author:         Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi  
        Translator:   Zafar Ishaq Ansari  
        Publisher:     The Islamic Foundation  

    Dr Zafar Ishaq Ansari, the worthy translator of Tafhimu’l-Qur’an, very graciously requested Mr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, President of Al-Mawrid Research Institute, to comment on this translation. In this section, Shehzad Saleem, President of Al-Mawrid’s Centre for Islamic Communications, on instruction from Mr Ghamidi and on his behalf, comments on this note-worthy work -- Editor.  

    Sayyid Abu’l-ala Mawdudi (1903-79) occupies a unique position in the personalities which have influenced the Muslim thought in this century. It can be said without fear of contradiction that his ideology and views hold sway on most Islamic movements which have emerged in the various regions of the Ummah in this era of its decadence. So profound is his influence that even his opponents and critics speak in the terms coined by him. His dynamic ideas have been a tremendous source of inspiration and motivation to many Muslims around the globe. As a prolific writer, he has written on almost all the topics pertaining to Islam. His magnum opus, however, is Tafhimu‘l- Qur’an, a monumental exegesis of the Qur’an which spreads over six volumes of approximately 700 large-size pages each.  
    The importance of this work for the common man is tremendous: the flowing translation of the Qur’anic text links his heart and soul to the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The explanatory notes answer most of the questions which arise in his mind while reading the Qur’an. In the words of Altaf Gohar:  

    As I read the Tafhimu‘l- Qur’an I was moved not only by the excellence of its language, the intensity of its grasp of the original, the smooth uninterrupted flow of its diction but also by the explanatory notes which deal with all significant questions, and where all kinds of doubts and problems are resolved. (Mas‘ud ul-Hassan, Sayyid Abu’l-ala Mawdudi and his Thought, Vol II, P. 459, Islamic Publications Lahore, 1984)  

        For the benefit of the non-Urdu readers, the Tafhimu‘l- Qur’an has been translated in a number of languages ever since its completion in 1972. In most international languages, this effort has been undertaken more than once. In the English language, it was first translated by Chaudhry Muhammad Akbar and his associate Abdul Aziz Kamal. This maiden effort was lauded greatly. Also, Altaf Gohar has translated selected portions of this commentary in his own distinct style.  
    The translation presently under our review is by Dr Zafar Ishaq Ansari, Director General, Institute of Islamic Research, International Islamic University, Islamabad. A scholar in his own right, Dr Ansari (b:1932) obtained his M A in Economics from the University of Karachi and later his M A  and Ph D  from the McGill University in Islamic Studies with specialisation in Islamic History and Islamic Jurisprudence. Prior to his assignment in Islamabad, he has been associated to many reputed universities round the globe in connection with teaching and research.  
    It would be worthwhile to mention here that it was the great Maulana himself who urged Dr Ansari to undertake this translation and it was perhaps this encouragement which ultimately impelled him to accept this challenge. Till now five volumes of this work have been published by The Islamic Foundation, Leicester, UK. The volumes are set in highly attractive paper-back covers and the printing standard is exceptionally good. While the translation of the Qur’anic text is entirely Dr Ansari’s effort, he has been ably assisted in the explanatory notes by Dr A R Kidwai of the Islamic Foundation. The last surah covered is ambiya which means that almost one half of the work still remains to be published. The eminent Professor Khurshid Ahmad has written an illuminating foreword to this work which dwells upon the background, nature and distinctive features of this most widely read exegesis of recent times.  
    Critics unanimously agree that good translations are those which do not look like translations. They have a touch of originality in them. Dr Ansari seems to be well aware of this standard and has tried to do justice to this difficult proposition. While recording the principles and methodology of his endeavour, he writes:  

    For a host of reasons my task was far from an easy one. Translation from one language into another is always difficult, and especially so when the material to be translated consists of matters that require both accuracy and subtlety of expression. In this particular case, the task was rendered even more difficult by the fact that the two languages in question belong to two different cultural and intellectual traditions. These factors were in addition to the erstwhile dilemma of every translator: to what extent should he remain to the original text and to what extent should he exercise some liberty in departing from it -- even with circumspection -- in the interest of making the translated text read better and possess the characteristic flavour of the translated language.  

    I naturally attempted to combine, as perhaps most translators would do, the two opposing considerations. In order to achieve this, I tried to keep my first draft as close to the text as possible, trying to retain as much as I could of the original, even the sequence of the words and phrases. This draft served as a base, and it was subjected to a series of drastic revisions in order to make it readable in terms of the accepted idiom and style of English. Even so, I made an effort to retain something of the flavour of the Urdu literary prose, and especially of the characteristic style of Mawdudi. (Editor's Preface, P. xxii)  

    Dr Ansari has added a number of features to this translation in order to make it more useful to the English reader. Many of the statements left undocumented by the Maulana have been provided with adequate documentation. As specified by him, all English quotations have been looked up in the original texts and incorporated in the translation. In the onerous task of referencing Hadith, he has adopted the system followed by A.J. Weinsinck in his A Handbook of Early Muhammadan Tradition, Leiden, 1927, and later in his famous Concordance. A Glossary of Terms has been included at the end of each volume to explain to the unaware reader some of the important nomenclature used in them. Biographical notes have also been added to provide basic information about the persons whose name occur in the text. Besides the Subject Index translated from Urdu, a General Index has also been painstakingly compiled. And last but not least, a few more notes have also been added by him where he deemed necessary.  
    All in all, the translation is a very commendable effort. Dr Ansari certainly deserves our felicitations in producing such a high quality work. Here we present some extracts of this translation to give our readers some idea of Dr Ansari’s admirable attempt.  


        O you who believe! Spend out of what We have provided  you before there comes a Day when there will be no buying and selling, and no friendship and intercession will be of any use. And they who disbelieve, they, indeed are the wrong-doers. Allah, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsisting Who sustains the entire order of the universe, there is no God but He. Neither slumber seizes Him, nor sleep; to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Who is there who might intercede with Him save with His leave? He knows what lies before men and what is hidden from them, whereas they cannot attain to anything of His knowledge save what He wills them to attain. His Dominion overspreads the heavens and the earth, and their upholding wearies Him not; He is All-High, All-Glorious.  (2:254-255)  


         And hasten to the forgiveness of your Lord and to a Paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the God-fearing who spend in the way of Allah both in plenty and hardship, who restrain their anger, and forgive others. Allah loves such good-doers. These are the ones who, when they commit any indecency and wrong against themselves, instantly remember Allah and implore forgiveness for their sins -- for who will forgive sins save Allah? -- and who do not wilfully persist in the wrong they did. They shall be recompensed by forgiveness from their Lord and by gardens beneath which rivers flow; there they shall abide. How good is the reward of those who labour!  (3:133-136)  


        Say: ‘As for me, my Lord has guided me onto a straight way, a right religion, the way of Abraham who adopted it in exclusive devotion to Allah, and he was not of those who associated others, with Allah in His divinity.’ Say: ‘Surely my Prayer, all my acts of worship, and my living and my dying are for Allah alone, the Lord of the whole universe. He has no associate. Thus have I been bidden, and I am the foremost of those who submit  themselves (to Allah).’ (6:161-163)  

        Call upon your Lord with humility and in secret. Surely He does not love transgressors. And do not make mischief in the earth after it has been set in order, and call upon Him with fear and longing. Surely Allah’s mercy is close to those who do good. And it is He Who sends forth winds as glad tidings in advance of His Mercy, and when they have carried a heavy-laden cloud We drive it to a dead land, then We send down rain from it and bring forth therewith fruits of every kind. In this manner do We raise the dead that you may take heed. As for the good land, vegetation comes forth in abundance by the command of its Lord, whereas from the bad land, only poor vegetation comes forth. Thus do We expound Our signs in diverse ways for a people who are grateful.  (7:55-58)  

        Do you consider providing water to the Pilgrims and tending the Sacred Mosque equal in worth to believing in Allah and the Last Day and striving in the cause of Allah? The two are not equal with Allah. Allah does not guide the wrong-doing folk. The higher rank with Allah is for those who believed and migrated and strove in His cause with their belongings and their persons. It is they who are triumphant. Their Lord gives them glad tiding of mercy from Him and of His good pleasure. For them await Gardens of eternal bliss. Therein they shall abide for ever. Surely with Allah there is a mighty reward. Believers! Do not take your fathers and your brothers for your allies if they choose unbelief in preference to belief. Whosoever of you takes them as allies those are wrong-doers.  (9:19-23)  


        He it is Who gave the sun radiance and the moon light, and determined the stages (for the waxing and waning of the moon) that you may learn the calculation of years and the reckoning of time. Allah has created all this with a rightful purpose (rather than out of play). He expounds His signs for the people who know. Surely in the alternation of the night and the day and in all that Allah has created in the heavens and the earth there are signs for the people who seek to avoid (error of outlook and conduct).  (10:5-6)  

        And the command was given: ‘Earth! Swallow up your water’; and: ‘Heaven! Abate!’ So the water subsided, the command was fulfilled, and the Ark settled on Mount Judi, and it was said: ‘Away with the wrong-doing folk!’ And Noah called out to his Lord, saying: ‘My Lord! My son is of my family. Surely Your promise is true, and You are the greatest of those who judge.’ In response Noah was told: ‘Most certainly he is not of your family; verily he is of unrighteous conduct. So do not ask of Me for that concerning which you have no knowledge. I admonish you never to act like the ignorant ones.’  (11:44-45)  
        Do they not see that We are advancing in the land, diminishing it by its borders on all sides? Allah judges, and no one has the power to reverse His judgement. He is swift in reckoning. Those who lived before them also devised many a plot, but the master plot rests with Allah. He knows what everyone does. The deniers of the truth will soon come to know whose end is good.  (13:41)  

        Our Lord! I have made some of my offspring settle in a barren valley near Your Inviolable House! Our Lord! I did so that they may establish Prayer. So make the hearts of people affectionately inclined to them, and provide them with fruits for their sustenance that they may give thanks. Our Lord! Surely You know all that we conceal and all that we reveal’ -- and nothing in the earth or in the heaven is hidden from Allah -- ‘All praise be to Allah Who, despite my old age, has given me Ishmael and Isaac. Surely my Lord hears all prayers. My Lord! Enable me and my offspring to establish Prayer, and do accept, our Lord, this prayer of mine. Our Lord! Forgive me and my parents and the believers on the Day when the reckoning will take place. (14:37-41)  

        Indeed Abraham was a whole community by himself, obedient to Allah, exclusively devoted to Him. And he was never one of those who associated others with Allah in His Divinity. He rendered thanks to Allah for His bounties so that Allah chose him [for His favours] and directed him to the right way. We bestowed good upon him in this world, and in the Hereafter he shall certainly be among the righteous. Then we revealed to you: ‘Follow the way of Abraham with exclusive devotion to Allah. He was not one of those who associated others with Allah in His Divinity.’ (16:120-123)  
        Whosoever desires immediate benefits in this fleeting life, We hasten to grant the benefits in the present life that We please to whomsoever We like but thereafter We decree for him Hell wherein he shall burn, condemned and rejected. But he who desires the Hereafter and strives for it as he should, and is a true believer, his striving will come to fruition. To all of these as well as those, We shall provide the wherewithal of this life in the present world by dint of your Lord’s bounty; and from none shall be withheld the bounty of your Lord. (17:18-20)  

        Has the story of Moses reached you? When he saw a fire and said to his family: ‘Hold on! I have just perceived a fire; perhaps I will bring a brand from it for you, or I will find some guidance at the fire (about the way to follow).’  
        When he came to it, a voice cried out to him: ‘Moses, Verily I am your Lord! Take off your shoes. You are in the sacred valley, Tuwaa! I Myself have chosen you; therefore, give ear to what is revealed. I am Allah. There is no god other than Me. So serve Me and establish Prayer to remember Me.  (20:9-14)  


        Verily this community of yours is a single community, and I am your Lord; so worship Me. But they tore asunder their faith into many parts. But to Us they are bound to return. Then whosoever does righteous works, while believing, his striving will not go unappreciated. We record them all for him.  (21:92-94)